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Western Press Review: Problems In NATO Expansion

Prague, 7 February 1997 (RFE/RL) -- In a news analysis in today's "Washington Post," the newspaper's Moscow's correspondent David Hoffman scoffs at Russian leaders' warnings that NATO expansion eastward would set off a severe phobic reaction in Russia.

He writes: "In a country where workers are paid months late or not at all, where top-gun fighter pilots are grounded for lack of money, where the army has been defeated in a regional guerrilla war and where defense factories have been shuttered, the Kremlin's alarms seem to have little resonance."

Hoffman's analysis follows several days in which Western commentary on the proposed NATO expansion and Russian reaction discusses Western nations' caution and Russian leaders' dire warnings.

WASHINGTON POST: Russia is in no position to mobilize any time soon

In his analysis, Hoffman continues: "Russia, weakened and struggling, is in no position to mobilize any time soon, according to politicians and experts here. They say that public opinion remains inward-looking and ambivalent, that Russia's outsized military is slowly crumbling, and that expansion of NATO is not the kind of threat that could rouse the country to a wartime footing."

Hoffman writes: "(Prime Minister Viktor) Chernomyrdin, who meets (with U.S. President Bill Clinton today) at the White House, said in an interview on Monday that NATO expansion would embolden Russian ultranationalists and lead to a new military buildup." The analysis says: "But evidence abounds that Russia has a long way to go before that can happen."

WASHINGTON POST: The West does not grasp the potential damage the NATO debate could do to a weakened Russian government

Earlier this week, Hoffman and Post writer Jim Hoagland reported on the Monday interview in Washington with Chernomyrdin in which the prime minister said NATO expansion would undermine the Yeltsin government and exacerbate Russian extremists' demand for re-armament. The writers said: "Chernomyrdin's forceful remarks were clearly meant to advance Russia's negotiating posture in discussions with the United States and other NATO allies."

They wrote: "But Chernomyrdin's expressions of alarm, delivered against the backdrop of Yeltsin's continuing ill health and intense political maneuvering in Moscow, also seemed to reflect a genuine concern that Washington and other Western capitals have not grasped the potential damage he said the NATO debate could do to the already weakened Russian government."

FINANCIAL TIMES: The Russians are making belligerent noises to negotiate a better agreement

In the British newspaper yesterday, Bruce Clark in Washington and Quentin Peel in Washington analyzed a French government proposal for a summit to include Russia, the United States, Britain and Germany, to work out NATO expansion issues, Clark and Peel wrote: "The move comes at a time of increasingly outspoken but conflicting signals from Moscow, arguing against NATO taking in new members from Eastern Europe without russian consent."

The writers said: "British officials believe the Russians are making belligerent noises to negotiate a better agreement. They are prepared to consider the French summit plan, provided it reinforces the negotiations being conducted (with Russia by NATO Secretary General Javier) Solana and fits into the timetable for the NATO summit in July."

LONDON TIMES: George Kennan calls NATO expansion a "fateful error"

The paper continues in an editorial today a consistent stand against NATO expansion. The Times comments on a recent "New York Times" commentary by former U.S. statesman George Kennan calling NATO expansion a "fateful error." The editorial is headlined: "A sage speaks on NATO expansion. Americans should listen."

The Times says: "As Mr. Kennan correctly notes, at some moment over the past 12 months, with no real warning, this radical redesign of NATO's role moved from general proposition to the edge of policy." The editorial concludes: "If Mr. Clinton really does want to build an undivided and democratic Europe, then he will think again about NATO expansion."

CHICAGO TRIBUNE: The Russians think NATO is trying to isolate Russia

In an analysis today, Ray Mosely writes: "Russian opposition to NATO's expansion to Eastern Europe, due to be discussed this week by President Clinton and Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, has reached a virulence that Western diplomats say was completely unexpected.

Mosely says: "The Western view is that Russia hasn't any options: It needs Western economic help and therefore can't afford confrontation. In the view of some Western diplomats, the Russians are only looking for a face-saving formula that will allow them to accept NATO expansion. One diplomat also noted that polls show the Russian public is largely indifferent to the issue, and many people fail to understand it. 'The debate is limited to 2,000 people in Moscow,' he said."

The analysis concludes: "The Russian view is that NATO is trying deliberately to isolate Russia by drawing a new dividing line in Europe. It is a difference in perception that may not easily be overcome."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Russia has time to moderate its position before NATO's enlargement summit

A senior fellow at London's International Institute for Strategic Studies, Philip H. Gordon, wrote in a commentary earlier this week that in proposing a NATO-Russia "special relationship," NATO has made an offer that Russia should not refuse. Gordon, who also is editor of the journal, "Survival," commented: "There is still time for the Russians to moderate their position before NATO's enlargement summit in July in Madrid, especially since a good part of the obstinacy is no more than an attempt to bargain for a better deal. But there is not much time."

He wrote: "Russian leaders now have two options. They can let their pride get the best of them and send NATO packing." He continued: "Or they can declare victory, conclude a formal NATO-Russia relationship, make clear to their Central European neighbors that they seek cooperation and good relations, and take advantage of a genuinely beneficial East-West relationship that Russia so badly needs." He concluded: "The ball is in their court."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Why has the alliance gotten itself into this mess?

Ian Davidson commented this week: "It is easy to see why NATO should not submit to a Russian veto on its future. But it is not so easy to understand why the alliance has got itself into this mess. NATO enlargement is not required for military reasons, since there is no foreseeable military threat to Eastern Europe. Yet it must antagonize the Russians -- who see it, rightly, as a fundamental shift in the European balance of power against them. Rightly, because that is the whole purpose of the exercise. So is it worth it?"